The political side of medical coverage

The Zika virus is only the latest health scare to reach our consciousness in this country. When the next one arrives, we will forget all about Zika.

Remember Ebola? That was the major health scare two years ago.

Has it really been two years? Yes. How easy we forget.


Children in front of their home that has been placed under Ebola virus quarantine, after a  17-year old boy died from the Ebola virus near the homestead on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. Liberian officials confirmed a second Ebola case Wednesday in the same town where the disease was detected days earlier on the corpse of a teenager, seven weeks after the country was declared Ebola-free.(AP Photo/ Abbas Dulleh)
Children in front of their home that was placed under Ebola virus quarantine, after a 17-year old boy died from the Ebola virus near the homestead on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, in July 2015. (The Associated Press)

Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hasn’t updated its Ebola statistics since December 2014, when it reported completing surveillance on 177 patients in Texas, 164 patients in Ohio and 117 patients in New York.

Fewer than 500 cases in three states. That’s all.

One man – one – diagnosed in September 2014 with Ebola died in this country. He had traveled to Liberia, where he contracted the disease. He died Oct. 8 of that year.

Several other patients were diagnosed with Ebola in New York and Texas that fall. One of them traveled to Cleveland by airplane before being diagnosed. All other passengers on that plane were monitored for 21 days, then cleared.

The Ebola patients in this country, some of whom were health care workers, were isolated and treated, and recovered. People they came in contact with were monitored as well.

Remember? It was all over the news.

Yet, Liberia suffered severe effects of Ebola for 17 months, almost a year and a half. Nearly 11,000 Liberians were infected with Ebola. More than 4,800 of them died, 192 of whom were doctors, nurses or health practitioners.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: 2 Years After Ebola, Liberia Is a Changed Nation

We didn’t hear much about that, however, did we?


IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR AIDS HEALTHCARE FOUNDATION - Enthusiastic walkers cheer as they finish the 11th annual Florida AIDS Walk and Music Festival featuring award-winning hip-hop artist Flo Rida, on March 20, 2016 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The event, produced by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) raised over $1,200,000 to provide services and support Floridians living with HIV/AIDS. (Jesus Aranguren/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
Walkers finish the 11th annual Florida AIDS Walk and Music Festival in March in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The event, produced by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, raised $1.2 million to provide services and support Floridians living with HIV/AIDS. (AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

Here’s another health crisis from 30 years ago, which today we also hear very little about: HIV/AIDS. According to, in 1981 the CDC “described cases of a rare lung infection, pneumocystis carinil pneumonia (PCP), in five young, previously healthy, gay men in Los Angeles. All the men have other unusual infections as well, indicating that their immune systems are not working; two have already died by the time the report is published. This … marks the first official reporting of what will become known as the AIDS epidemic.”

In another CDC report, “At the end of 2012, an estimated 1.2 million persons aged 13 and older were living with HIV infection in the United States, including 156,300 (12.8%) persons whose infections had not been diagnosed.

More than 1 million – just four years ago. I didn’t know that.

Also in that report, HIV infections diagnosed in 2014 were listed by race:

Race or Ethnicity Estimated Number of Diagnoses
of HIV Infection, 2014
American Indian/Alaska Native 222
Asian 1,046
Black/African American 19,540
Hispanic/Latino 10,201
Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander 58
White 12,025
Multiple Races 982

“Worldwide,” the report continues, “there were about 2 million new cases of HIV in 2014. About 36.9 million people are living with HIV around the world. An estimated 1.2 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2014. Since 2000, around 25.3 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses. Sub-Saharan Africa, which bears the heaviest burden of HIV/AIDS worldwide, accounts for 66% of all new HIV infections. Other regions significantly affected by HIV/AIDS include Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia.”

Despite thousands of new cases each year in the United States and millions worldwide, in the first CDC report I referred to under the 2016 banner, “(The CDC) reports that only 1 in 5 sexually active high school students has been tested for HIV. An estimated 50% of young Americans who are living with HIV do not know they are infected.”

HIV/AIDS, then, remains a huge issue; 1.2 million worldwide died from its effects just two years ago. Why do we not hear about it any more? News fatigue? Because most of those deaths aren’t taking place in the United States?

More on that in a minute.


A group of visitors walk by an establishment in the Wynwood area, Friday, Aug. 5, 2016, in Miami. The recent announcement that more than a dozen people have been infected with Zika by mosquitoes in the area has scared away some, but many others are still coming. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
A group of visitors walk by an establishment in the Wynwood area in Miami on Friday. (The Associated Press)




Which brings us to the current Zika virus news cycle.

At least 1,600 people were reportedly infected in this country this year, nearly all of whom had traveled to Latin America or the Caribbean, and got infected through a mosquito bite. A month ago a person in Miami-Dade County in Florida contracted the virus without traveling. Health officials are investigating 17 suspected cases of locally-transmitted Zika.

Seventeen. Is this the start of an epidemic?

No.  The New York Times reports that “While officials are confident the Zika virus will never run rampant in the United States …”

Yet it’s on the news just about every night.

Who are the victims? Pregnant women. Actually, their fetuses.

Many of those 17 suspected cases are in a low-income area of South Florida, the Times reports.

“Zika is an enemy most people can’t see,” the Times says. “While its effects can be catastrophic to developing fetuses, in adults the effects are usually mild or negligible, and health officials assume that for every person with symptoms, four more have undetected Zika infection.”

So, most people who contract the Zika virus show few or no symptoms, and get through it easily. Why, then, is it on the nightly news?

I’m going to suggest a reason that some of you won’t like. It’s the same answer I’ll give for why the Ebola “crisis” made the news when it affected Americans, but hardly at all when Liberians were the victims. And the same for why HIV/AIDS victims made headlines for so long.

The news cycle trend

The answer: Most of the American victims of two of those illnesses were white, and the third – HIV/AIDS – had a significant white population that got infected.

When Liberians, who are predominately black, took center state in the Ebola crisis, the news coverage dried up. HIV/AIDS affected people of multiple races, sure, as the chart I presented shows, but while blacks are the largest group, whites are next in line.

Minority pregnant women are just that – in the minority – when news stations are seeking interviews about the Zika virus, even though the virus seems to be targeting a low-income neighborhood called Wynwood in Miami.

Since HIV/AIDS is concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, which again is predominately black, we don’t follow it here in the United States. Yet it remains a significant problem here, more than 30 years after it was first diagnosed.

Since minority “rights” are such a big issue these days, how about raising issues affecting minorities in relation to news coverage? It appears that “white” illnesses take center stage, while “minority” illnesses frequently do not.

Let’s make sure pregnant women, and those who might get pregnant, are educated about Zika, certainly. But with all the health issues this country faces – cancer, vehicle crashes, heart disease, mental illnesses, high blood pressure, domestic abuse, even murder and brutality – is Zika really the one we need to focus on the most?

Perhaps we do get fatigued by the “news.” Especially when we can’t relate to it.

Minorities need a greater voice on what gets covered. We frequently see minorities as victims of violence, and that needs to stop. But are there other issues that minorities care about? Medical, social, recreational (besides the NBA), cultural, spiritual …

And not just blacks, but Hispanics, Latinos, Asians and other groups as well.

Are we as whites willing to pay attention?

Even better, can we find some issues that all of us care about together?

Let’s not wait for the presidential candidates to lead on this. The media can play a big role here.

Each of us as individuals can lead, too. We can respect each other. Listen. Care. Get involved in each other’s lives.

Even if no one else is watching.


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